Nobody likes opening their cooler to discover everything has been squashed into a wet and soggy mess. I know I certainly don’t! That’s why I have compiled a list of the best cooler packing hacks.
The best hacks for packing a cooler include using salt water ice bricks for long-lasting cold or adding trays to separate wet and dry goods. Prepping all food beforehand and stacking them vertically for quick and easy access is a smart way of packing.
The great thing about these hacks is that you can use a combination of them, and they will work on any budget.
By the end of this article, your organized cooler will look as if Marie Kondo had packed it herself.
1. Salt Water Ice Bricks
Ice packs are designed to stay colder than regular ice as they melt and this can be a great way to keep items frozen in your cooler for a lot longer than the otherwise would. You can buy some great ice packs for coolers but a good hack is to actually make your own using a container and cheap rock salt.
Salt is an excellent way of keeping ice extra cold. Utilizing it in your ice blocks is a genius way of keeping your cooler extra cold.
You can make your own salt water ice bricks using the below steps:
- Choose a container of your choice. This could even be a Ziploc bag but I find water bottles are easiest.
- Fill the container with water and salt using this ratio: 2 tablespoons of salt to 2 cups of water
- Put in freezer until it is frozen solid
Where you pack your ice blocks in the cooler is essential, you can check out my tips on where to put ice packs in a cooler.
2. Pack Your Eggs Safely
Eggs are the ultimate camping foods, but they are a pain to pack and a big mess to clean when they break.
Here are some of my favorite hacks for packing your eggs safely in a cooler:
- Pour the egg whites and yolks into a plastic bottle
- Pour the egg whites and yolks into a Ziploc bag
- Buy an egg holder container
- Make your own DIY egg holder by placing the egg carton in a Tupperware cushioned with paper towels.
- Use powdered eggs
Click here to see all the different ways you can safely pack eggs in a cooler.
3. Use a Dry Goods Tray
Separating your dry goods from wet goods is highly recommended if you don’t want your food to get wet.
You have two options when deciding on a tray; you could either buy one ready-made. For example, Yeti has a great range of cooler accessories, like cooler baskets.
Or you could make your own by repurposing a baking tray rack.
If you want to learn more about packing a cooler better, check out my awesome techniques on how to stop items from getting wet in a cooler.
4. Use a Divider
Dividing your food is an excellent way of organizing the way your food is packed, and it allows you to stack items vertically, ultimately creating more usable space.
I personally prefer using a simple cutting board as a divider because it can be used to cut items once unpacked. Two birds with one stone!
You can use any board in your cooler. Plastic or wood both work great but you will need to cut them to size so they fit perfectly in your cooler.
Making a cardboard template is a good idea so you can get the perfect shape before you cut up a chopping board
5. Freeze Food Before
Your cooler’s one job is to keep your items cold, and while it does the job, pre-freezing items does help to give it a major nudge in the cold department.
If you know you’re not going to be using specific items first, a handy trick is to freeze them before packing.
Not only will this keep those items colder for longer, but they will also act as ice packs in the cooler.
6. Pack Logically
Packing your cooler is all about being smart and logical; this way, you’ll be able to get more items packed in an organized manner.
Here are some tips for packing logically:
- Try packing items vertically. This is an excellent way of being able to see what’s in the cooler at a glance and takes up less space.
- Pack items into the cooler in the order that you will need them. Items that you will be using first should not be placed at the bottom of the cooler.
7. Prep Food Before
If you’re out camping or at a barbeque, the last thing you want to be doing is chopping up vegetables and peeling potatoes. Prepping all the food before you pack is a great way of saving you time and space in the cooler.
Your prepared food can be stored in plastic containers, preferably square, and stacked into the cooler to really maximize available space.
If your containers are all the same/similar sizes then as you use then you can clean them and stack them so they don't take up much space when you're packing to come home.
8. Pre-chill The Cooler
To really make the most out of your cooler, I recommended chilling the cooler before you begin packing. Especially if your cooler has thick walls or it’s going to be a scorching day.
- Leave the cooler open in a cold room or outside if temperatures are low.
- Fill your cooler the day before with a bag of ice, close the lid and leave it to sit overnight.
- Fill your cooler with frozen plastic bottles instead of bags of ice.
9. Make a Cooler Map
Everytime you open up you cooler you let warm air in and the longer it's open while you're looking for items the more warm air that will get in and the more items in your cooler will melt.
If your cooler is filled to the brim, drawing out a cooler map is recommended. You can put masking tape on the top of your cooler and use a pen to write out exactly what is in which spot.
This way, you can consult the map to find an item, then quickly open your cooler and grab it without wasting time. This is much better than just blindly pulling out all the items and ruining your efforts of packing so neatly…not to mention melting a lot of your ice in the process.
10. Get Clever With Cans
A clever way of packing cans is to create layers of cans. Start with a layer of cans lying flat on the bottom, and then place your items on top.
Repeat this process throughout the cooler. Check out my other tips for packing cans.
11. Make a Cold Cap
Utilize the space between your items and the lid of the cooler by using a reusable freezer sheet, ice packs, plastic bags with frozen water, or even a damp towel.
This will really help keep your items cold.
12. Drain The Water
When the ice melts in the cooler, you will be left with a puddle of water, soaking all your items and increasing the weight of your cooler.
Also ice melts slower if you drain water than if you keep the water in there.
If you want to avoid this, regularly drain the wastewater and top up the cooler with more ice.
Packing your cooler is crucial if you want to save space and keep your cooler cold for longer.
By using a combination of these hacks, packing your cooler has never been easier and, dare I say, fun.